Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters might just be one of the tightest retro-inclined yet forward-thinking tie-in games on its generation of hardware. It’s pure drop-in, drop-out co-op button-mashing brawler action as you clobber through a wide array of the titular Manhunters. However, it also boasts the two-trigger arsenal modifiers like the Angel and Devil Triggers from DmC: Devil May Cry. Not to mention you can free-flow basically any combo together into an unyielding barrage of power. There are more enemy types in a single level than some whole games throw at you.
You don’t need to know any sort of elaborate combo moves, but fast reflexes are still rewarded. You’re granted powerful Lantern attacks, ranging from more traditional blasts and fisticuffs to chain-stun attacks and homing mines. Yet, your energy meter keeps your powers in check, requiring a grasp of the fundamentals and being tactful with each power in every fight.
That’s great, seeing as every level in Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters throws new enemies and abilities at you, breathlessly taking you on a journey across the Green Lantern universe wholly absent from the movie. You’ll meet the Star Sapphires and more, with Hal Jordan and optional co-op buddy Sinestro duking it out against the relentless advance of Manhunter robots invading the Lantern home of Oa and beyond. What follows is a rock-solid action brawler in the vein of classic superhero beat ’em ups of the ‘90s.
Despite obviously being a linear brawler with a limited scope, Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters has arenas that feel massive, with action playing out around you across vast draw distances. There are Star Fox-inspired flying sections and on-foot battles, combat flowing flawlessly across an array of battlefields against highly varied enemies. The Manhunters have an army packed full of units big and small — each with unique strategies — in addition to several aliens they forcefully enlist into their ranks to exterminate you. Whenever any section nears running too long, you’ll find yourself suddenly invading an enemy ship or freeing a captured queen on an exotic world.
I will say that those Star Fox sections could’ve used a bit more work though. You can tell developer Double Helix realized the on-foot combat was the heart of the experience, as flying tends to rely on large displays of enemies rather than real threats. There was plenty of room to make these sections as meaningful as the up-close combat, but Rise of the Manhunters never really pushes the envelope in this regard.
Fortunately, bashing Manhunters is a delight. I can’t overstate how great every ability feels — whether you’re smashing with a hammer, clobbering with razor blades, or striking from afar. Each ability has a genuine use that can alter your play style. While simple to execute, the skill ceiling permitted is far above the paygrade of even some of the best tie-in games, which should come as no surprise given Double Helix would later go on to reboot Killer Instinct for Microsoft.
What seals this all together though is the remarkable polish on display. Every sound effect feels impactful, the music is great with a Ratchet & Clank electro vibe, and Reynolds even reprises his role as Hal Jordan. No one else returns from the film, but a few cast members from the Green Lantern animated series do — though that makes one wish fan favorites like Kilowog were playable in addition to Jordan and Sinestro. Regardless, it captures the feeling of journeying through a Green Lantern comic with panache, as buttery-smooth combat plays out across strange alien worlds.
All that said, while it captures the feel and thrill of Green Lantern, Rise of the Manhunters just can’t seem to find time to tell a story that’s all that interesting. It’s telling that, without any overt hints, I guessed who the main villain was before the first hour was up, and nothing in the narrative beyond that was hugely shocking. It’s not a poorly told story; rather, a lot of effort goes towards integrating it into each new gameplay twist, but the result is more of a John Carmack-ian approach to narrative design than something akin to a Ninja Theory or Insomniac Games project.
Regardless, it’s hard to find something to really dislike about Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters. This is another gem of a tie-in game discarded far too casually at release. Games of similar length and depth have performed far better since, so the game’s poor reception seems to be due to circumstance rather than quality. All told, I have to salute the team at Helix. They had the will and determination worthy of the Lantern Corps., not only surviving their Justice League game’s cancellation, but resurrecting it as a blast of a time.